It took three dead Black bodies, manifestos that made clear racist intent for the killings — and the national exposure of a presidential race — to get Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to face Jacksonville’s African-American community.
It didn’t go well for the governor, whose indignation at a hate crime seemed hypocritical in light of his anti-Black policies.
He was booed and jeered.
“You have blood on your hands!” a man shouted at him.
Strong words, but the governor who launched divisive cultural wars to shut down the national conversation about systemic discrimination against Black people, deserves every one of them.
What else was DeSantis expecting when he has spent the past two years denigrating Blacks by making it more difficult to vote, gerrymandering to dilute what little political power African Americans have and — the ultimate low-blow — whitewashing the teaching of brutal Black enslavement to make European slave owners look better?
Standing next to him near the shooting site, the face of Jacksonville state Rep. Angie Nixon, a Black Democrat who stared down at him, said it all.
“He has had an all-out attack on the Black community with his anti-woke policies, which we know very well was nothing more than a dog whistle to get folks riled up in a way it just happened yesterday,” Nixon told MSNBC on Sunday.
This is a governor who, on top of unleashing hateful rhetoric to push his agenda, loosened gun laws by allowing permitless carry, so that any nut-job, like the nation’s latest white-supremacist killer, 21-year-old Ryan Christopher Palmeter, can feel comfortably empowered to walk around armed. Palmeter, by the way, had bought his AR-15 rifle and Glock handgun legally, despite being Baker Acted in 2017.
DeSantis’ awkward response to the Dollar General store shooting, in which Anolt “AJ” Laguerre Jr., 19, Jerrald De’Shaun Gallion, 29, and Angela Michelle Carr, 52, died, was almost offensive.
He threw money — $1.1 million, which he pledged Monday — to go toward security at the nearby historically Black college, Edwards Waters University, where the gunman stopped and may have been dissuaded from attacking by an alert security guard who followed him.
As if money can buy lost lives. As if money can change hearts filled with hate and minds consumed by it. As if money could bring back all the Florida sons and daughters lost to gun violence.
“Blood money does not atone for the egregious way y’alls Governor has vehemently oppressed African Americans in this state,” tweeted former state Sen. Audrey Gibson. “It’s our money he’s sending anyway.”
No offense to EWU Prez and the astute security who recognized something was not right, but blood money does not atone for the egregious way y’all’s Governor has vehemently oppressed African Americans in this state. It’s our money he’s sending anyway. It’s the State Senate black
— Audrey Gibson (@AudreyGibsn2eet) August 29, 2023
Gibson — who said on the Senate floor when the Legislature passed the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act” that behind the legislation was “the fear of our young people coming together to bring down divisions” — is, once again, right.
But, perhaps, so was Jacksonville Councilwoman Ju’ Coby Pittman, a Democrat, when she came to DeSantis’ defense as the booing became intense, asking the crowd to stop and let him speak.
She’ll take the needed money for the university, she said, in a moment that was both real but upsetting if you know the history of broken promises made to Jacksonville’s Black community — and frankly, about the patience and undeserved respect Blacks have previously shown to the powers-that-be.
But, why not fund increased security at a Black university — and also restore for all the truth-telling of African-American studies that shine a light on racism?
In Florida’s most populous city, Black neighborhoods have always come last when it comes to infrastructure upgrades like roads and sewer systems, and often not at all.
Shun the oppressor
Why should African Americans believe DeSantis now? Why should they applaud him?
For the crowd gathered Sunday where DeSantis spoke near the shooting site, there’s personal precedent for the dislike of a governor who lives in the neighboring well-to-do beach city of Ponte Vedra, but has been deaf to their grievances.
People don’t forget that in other occasions, DeSantis’ people removed from his appearances the city’s most prominent Black activist, Ben Frazier, who fought for rights until the end, despite his deadly cancer diagnosis. He died recently at 73.
At one event, they dragged out the already sick and frail man, who was doing nothing but seeking an audience with DeSantis to air his opposition to a new round of discriminatory policies.
If DeSantis thought finally facing the Black community would win him any political points, he was wrong.
Only his actions matter, not his grandstanding in the face of evil when he’s running for the GOP presidential nomination.
There was no good reason to further militarize Florida, where mass shootings have claimed too many lives.
There was no good reason to stoke people’s prejudices beyond what they already are by enacting policies that fuel hatred of minority groups — especially so, erasing historic and current reality from the state’s African-American studies curriculum.
In grief, Jacksonville’s Black community stood up to DeSantis.
The culture wars were the worst thing to happen to Florida in decades.
And that’s all on DeSantis.
They’re worse than a hurricane because, as we saw in Jacksonville, they rot people’s souls from the inside out.